Ian Powell: Unionism and nursing in New Zealand

This article by Ian Powell first appeared on 24 November 2021 on Democracy Project. It is re-published here under a Creative Commons CC BY-ND 4.0  license.

In the around 35 years I worked for unions (over 30 with the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists and earlier with the New Zealand Educational Institute) I often cogitated over the distinction between unions and unionism. They are intertwined but not inseparable.

I associate unionism with collective consciousness able to lead to collective action usually, but not always, arising out of an employment relationship. The union is a structure within which this unionism is able to operate and organise.

Numbers, or more precisely density, are important for unions but membership empowerment within unions and at workplaces is unionism and more critical.

Central Otago, Helen Kelly and Karl Marx

You can have formal unions without unionism. These are, for example, unions that do enough for their members to generate a sufficient revenue stream or are employer created (or encouraged and facilitated) unions. Fortunately these types of unions are few.

However, the mentality behind them is wider. The current Council of Trade Unions President has worked with employers in the public health system to undermine the combative Resident Doctors Association by actively supporting a new competing employer-compliant union. The justification was that the RDA was not affiliated to the CTU. This reflected a narrow view of unions that has little to do with unionism.

It is also possible to have unionism without a union. I was struck by an academic article by Lloyd Carpenter published in 2013 in the Australian based Labour History under the revealing title A Petty and Spiteful Spirit on the Part of the Company”: The 1881 Cromwell Company Strike at Bendigo, Otago. It involved a lengthy and bitter strike by employed miners.

The strike was eventually defeated because of the company’s power which it was willing to exercise in the most vicious manner. The power included owning the only available housing for the miners and their families. The viciousness was and then evicting them with the assistance of the severe central Otago winter.

But the strikers won the hearts and minds of the wider public, including in Dunedin, with favourable Otago Daily Times coverage and the company soon went out of business. What struck me the most was that there was no union. It was after all rural New Zealand in 1881.

The late Helen Kelly increasingly grasped the distinction between unions as structures and unionism as a dynamic when she was President of the Council of Trade Unions. For me this was most noteworthy with her campaigning over workplace safety in de-unionised forestry. Less prominent was her similar work in the likewise de-unionised agriculture sector.

Karl Marx’s fundamental observation on the nature of the working class also comes to mind. He distinguished between a ‘class of itself’ (its existence) and a ‘class for itself’ (its consciousness of being a class). The potential for the working class to be transformational would not be realisable when its development was restricted to the former. But, should it achieve the latter, this potential becomes realisable.

This Marxian insight prompted me to distinguish between ‘unions of themselves’ (structures) and ‘unions for themselves’ (unionism). It is the difference between unions as functional institutions and unionism as a movement.

NZNO external review

All these thoughts from central Otago to Karl Marx via Helen Kelly were in the back of my mind when I recently had the opportunity to read an external review of the performance of the New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO). Completed on 2 November 2020 it covered the preceding 24 months.

The review followed a period of turmoil within NZNO which included internal conflict within its governing board and increasing membership dissatisfaction, particularly over its multi-employer collective agreement (MECA) negotiations with the 20 district health boards (DHBs). This dissatisfaction led to a number of membership resignations or non-renewals with a consequential sizeable financial hit.

NZNO is important for New Zealand’s health system. Realistically it is the only union of nurses. With around 51,000 members it is by far the largest number members working in the highly unionised public health system. This high membership leads to annual revenues of around $23 million which means, relative to other health unions at least, it is well-resourced with 131 full-time equivalent staff.

The NZNO Board discussed what were then proposed terms of reference for the external review on 1 July 2020. There was much confidence that the Board would come out well in the review with a senior leader stating that “…she wants the facts to speak for themselves and she believes that the way the Board has behaved has not been anything but reputable.”

The process for the review certainly gave the impression that it was structured to achieve this outcome. It was still being fine-tuned on 1 July but the review was completed and forwarded to the Board on 2 November; a short time period given the significance of the issues being considered. But this was achieved by confining those interviewed to a small number of current and past national leaders (elected and appointed).

There appears to have been no consideration of membership views as might be reflected through sessions with delegates, branch representatives or regional organisers. This is surprising given the high level of membership disquiet with its leadership including over the handling of the above MECA negotiations during the period under review.

Governance crisis

Despite this expressed confidence within the NZNO Board, the review did not conclude that its behaviour had not been anything but reputable. Instead its ‘hit-you-in-the-eye’ conclusion was that “NZNO is in a governance crisis.” It put responsibility for this crisis fairly and squarely on the shoulders of the Board, including because of internal conflict and regular breach of Board ethics. Lack of governance capability on the Board was also identified.

Senior staff were, on the other hand, commended. In fact, then chief executive Memo Musa is praised for his leadership including being described as the person holding NZNO leadership together.

Although undertaking the review was reported to NZNO members the Board excluded them from receiving it (inevitably, however, with the passage of time it has had some circulation beyond the Board). Only its recommendations were circulated to members but without the reasoning behind them. In other words, members were allowed to know what but not why.

The Board’s defence for excluding membership access is professional sensitivity and confidentiality. But there is nothing in the review that would justify exclusion. In this context professional sensitivity is a vacuous assertion. Confidentiality does not stack up as no critical comments about individuals are made and no confidential financial or personal information reported.

There is certainly embarrassment with its conclusion of a governance crisis and Board dysfunction. But embarrassment is no justification for making the review available for members who are NZNO’s main revenue stream and to whom the Board is electorally accountable.

Riddled with deficiencies

While the review’s conclusion of a governance crisis is reasonable its text is riddled with deficiencies. If you did not know that NZNO is a union you would not have learned this from the review. While the review does briefly acknowledge that NZNO is a registered union, it puts much more emphasis on it also being an incorporated society. But for a union to be registered under the Employment Relations Act being an incorporated society is a legal prerequisite.

The review is written as if it was applicable to any non-union incorporated society and looks to the Institute of Directors as the solution to many of NZNO’s problems. There is no consideration of membership accountability or the legal good faith obligations unions have to their members under the Employment Relations Act. Further, the Institute’s understanding of the role of unions is low.

Disappointingly the review simply concludes that if governance capabilities were resolved, NZNO’s problems including membership confidence would go away. It does not consider what the governance capabilities of a governing board of a union should be and whether the governance crisis was a consequence of growing membership dissatisfaction rather than its cause.

The choice of reviewers is indicative. They were a ‘leadership development manager’ at the Canterbury-based company Brannigans Human Capital Chris Bailey and commercial corporate lawyer Guy Royal. There is no suggestion of any experience of working in or with unions, particularly those representing professionals. What this contributes to is a review operating with only a limited context thereby missing more than it saw.

The deficiencies of the review stem from reliance on structural solutions to what is essentially relational and a lack of awareness of the role of NZNO as a union including membership accountability. It is as if NZNO is seen primarily as a professional body that includes some narrow union functions such as MECA bargaining.

There is a lack of a broad view of unionism that recognises the value of collectivist approaches to many issues including those that might be considered professional and industrial (in fact, there is a big area of blurry grey between the two).

The review considers the Board to have an “evident skills gap” and proposes outside expertise to be brought in. Among its recommendations to address this is that all Board members (‘directors’) must become members of the Institute of Directors and to remain eligible for another term have completed the Institute’s ‘essentials’ courses.

In doing so it fails to consider the kinds of skills that are needed for unions or other membership driven organisations. These skills are more to do with insightful understanding of the vulnerability, needs and aspirations of members. The Institute of Directors are not sufficiently experienced in this area. Technical skills such as financial literacy can be provided by external support or qualified senior staff (or both).

Reducing membership control

The review recommends major changes to the Board’s membership which require constitutional amendment. Under its constitution NZNO currently has a governing board comprising 11 elected members called directors. Designated director positions take up 4 of the 11 – President, Vice President, Kaiwhakahaere and Tumu whakarae (assists the Kaiwhakahaere). Members also elect the other 7 members.

If the review’s recommendations were adopted the size of the Board would be reduced from 11 to 9 directors. The above 4 designated positions would remain. But there would be a new unelected position created of Chair appointed by a three-person panel. The Chair could also be a non-member and would be additional to the 9 directors.

Two additional director positions would be created to “bridge the skills gap on the Board”. As with the Chair they could be non-members and would be selected by the same appointments panel. Realistically all 3 positions could be non-members.

The proposed unelected Chair of NZNO’s governing board is pivotal to the review. The role of the Chair is described as ensuring “…that discussion and decisions are centred at a strategic level as well as to take into account operations.” Further, the Chair needs “…to ensure the Board sets a culture that is maintained by the Board and driven through the organisation.”

No punches are pulled about the intent of the proposed Chair when it is called “…the most critical position of the organisation [NZNO]” as the holder works closely with the chief executive and Board. This suggests the review believes the unelected Chair sits above the elected President, Vice President, Kaiwhakahaere and Tumu whakarae!

Reducing the Board to 9 and requiring 2 of them to be appointed means that the number of members outside the above 4 designated positions dramatically reduces from 7 to 3. The effect would be a radical reduction in membership representation on the Board and consequential reduced members’ control and leadership accountability for a membership based organisation.

NZNO a union ‘of itself’ or ‘for itself’

NZNO’s recent successful negotiation of a new MECA for its DHB employed members in difficult circumstances was largely due to its learning from the previous internally fractious negotiation that contributed significantly to the decision to commission the review.

NZNO became more membership engaged and driven which had a big spin-off impact on the effectiveness of its collective bargaining. It was a powerful lesson in membership empowerment which began to move NZNO in the direction of the more influential position of being a ‘union for itself’.

This experience therefore makes the review’s recommendations so disappointing. The review is on a different planet to that of NZNO’s collective bargaining experience. The review goes in the opposite direction. If implemented effect of its recommendations would be to ensure that an organisation endeavouring to become more membership driven would instead become less accountable to its members than it currently is.

Recently NZNO has elected a new national president and vice president (Anne Daniels and Nano Tunnicliffe respectively). They stood as a ticket on a platform, building on the MECA negotiations experience, of strengthening NZNO as a membership-driven and empowered union. Ensuring that this review does not derail this direction will be a huge challenge for them.

How it responds to the review’s recommendations will be a test of the extent to which NZNO understands itself. Is NZNO a union and, if so, is it a union ‘of itself’ or ‘for itself’? How it responds will have wider implications for the union movement in the health system at least.

Ian Powell was formerly the Executive Director of the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists for over 30 years until December 2019.  He is now a health commentator, editor of the blog ‘Otaihanga Second Opinion’, and based in Otaihanga on the Kapiti Coast.

This article can be republished under a Creative Commons CC BY-ND 4.0  license. Attributions should include a link to the Democracy Project.  

In the around 35 years I worked for unions (over 30 with the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists and earlier with the New Zealand Educational Institute) I often cogitated over the distinction between unions and unionism. They are intertwined but not inseparable.

I associate unionism with collective consciousness able to lead to collective action usually, but not always, arising out of an employment relationship. The union is a structure within which this unionism is able to operate and organise.

Numbers, or more precisely density, are important for unions but membership empowerment within unions and at workplaces is unionism and more critical.

Central Otago, Helen Kelly and Karl Marx

You can have formal unions without unionism. These are, for example, unions that do enough for their members to generate a sufficient revenue stream or are employer created (or encouraged and facilitated) unions. Fortunately these types of unions are few.

However, the mentality behind them is wider. The current Council of Trade Unions President has worked with employers in the public health system to undermine the combative Resident Doctors Association by actively supporting a new competing employer-compliant union. The justification was that the RDA was not affiliated to the CTU. This reflected a narrow view of unions that has little to do with unionism.

It is also possible to have unionism without a union. I was struck by an academic article by Lloyd Carpenter published in 2013 in the Australian based Labour History under the revealing title A Petty and Spiteful Spirit on the Part of the Company”: The 1881 Cromwell Company Strike at Bendigo, Otago. It involved a lengthy and bitter strike by employed miners.

The strike was eventually defeated because of the company’s power which it was willing to exercise in the most vicious manner. The power included owning the only available housing for the miners and their families. The viciousness was and then evicting them with the assistance of the severe central Otago winter.

But the strikers won the hearts and minds of the wider public, including in Dunedin, with favourable Otago Daily Times coverage and the company soon went out of business. What struck me the most was that there was no union. It was after all rural New Zealand in 1881.

The late Helen Kelly increasingly grasped the distinction between unions as structures and unionism as a dynamic when she was President of the Council of Trade Unions. For me this was most noteworthy with her campaigning over workplace safety in de-unionised forestry. Less prominent was her similar work in the likewise de-unionised agriculture sector.

Karl Marx’s fundamental observation on the nature of the working class also comes to mind. He distinguished between a ‘class of itself’ (its existence) and a ‘class for itself’ (its consciousness of being a class). The potential for the working class to be transformational would not be realisable when its development was restricted to the former. But, should it achieve the latter, this potential becomes realisable.

This Marxian insight prompted me to distinguish between ‘unions of themselves’ (structures) and ‘unions for themselves’ (unionism). It is the difference between unions as functional institutions and unionism as a movement.

NZNO external review

All these thoughts from central Otago to Karl Marx via Helen Kelly were in the back of my mind when I recently had the opportunity to read an external review of the performance of the New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO). Completed on 2 November 2020 it covered the preceding 24 months.

The review followed a period of turmoil within NZNO which included internal conflict within its governing board and increasing membership dissatisfaction, particularly over its multi-employer collective agreement (MECA) negotiations with the 20 district health boards (DHBs). This dissatisfaction led to a number of membership resignations or non-renewals with a consequential sizeable financial hit.

NZNO is important for New Zealand’s health system. Realistically it is the only union of nurses. With around 51,000 members it is by far the largest number members working in the highly unionised public health system. This high membership leads to annual revenues of around $23 million which means, relative to other health unions at least, it is well-resourced with 131 full-time equivalent staff.

The NZNO Board discussed what were then proposed terms of reference for the external review on 1 July 2020. There was much confidence that the Board would come out well in the review with a senior leader stating that “…she wants the facts to speak for themselves and she believes that the way the Board has behaved has not been anything but reputable.”

The process for the review certainly gave the impression that it was structured to achieve this outcome. It was still being fine-tuned on 1 July but the review was completed and forwarded to the Board on 2 November; a short time period given the significance of the issues being considered. But this was achieved by confining those interviewed to a small number of current and past national leaders (elected and appointed).

There appears to have been no consideration of membership views as might be reflected through sessions with delegates, branch representatives or regional organisers. This is surprising given the high level of membership disquiet with its leadership including over the handling of the above MECA negotiations during the period under review.

Governance crisis

Despite this expressed confidence within the NZNO Board, the review did not conclude that its behaviour had not been anything but reputable. Instead its ‘hit-you-in-the-eye’ conclusion was that “NZNO is in a governance crisis.” It put responsibility for this crisis fairly and squarely on the shoulders of the Board, including because of internal conflict and regular breach of Board ethics. Lack of governance capability on the Board was also identified.

Senior staff were, on the other hand, commended. In fact, then chief executive Memo Musa is praised for his leadership including being described as the person holding NZNO leadership together.

Although undertaking the review was reported to NZNO members the Board excluded them from receiving it (inevitably, however, with the passage of time it has had some circulation beyond the Board). Only its recommendations were circulated to members but without the reasoning behind them. In other words, members were allowed to know what but not why.

The Board’s defence for excluding membership access is professional sensitivity and confidentiality. But there is nothing in the review that would justify exclusion. In this context professional sensitivity is a vacuous assertion. Confidentiality does not stack up as no critical comments about individuals are made and no confidential financial or personal information reported.

There is certainly embarrassment with its conclusion of a governance crisis and Board dysfunction. But embarrassment is no justification for making the review available for members who are NZNO’s main revenue stream and to whom the Board is electorally accountable.

Riddled with deficiencies

While the review’s conclusion of a governance crisis is reasonable its text is riddled with deficiencies. If you did not know that NZNO is a union you would not have learned this from the review. While the review does briefly acknowledge that NZNO is a registered union, it puts much more emphasis on it also being an incorporated society. But for a union to be registered under the Employment Relations Act being an incorporated society is a legal prerequisite.

The review is written as if it was applicable to any non-union incorporated society and looks to the Institute of Directors as the solution to many of NZNO’s problems. There is no consideration of membership accountability or the legal good faith obligations unions have to their members under the Employment Relations Act. Further, the Institute’s understanding of the role of unions is low.

Disappointingly the review simply concludes that if governance capabilities were resolved, NZNO’s problems including membership confidence would go away. It does not consider what the governance capabilities of a governing board of a union should be and whether the governance crisis was a consequence of growing membership dissatisfaction rather than its cause.

The choice of reviewers is indicative. They were a ‘leadership development manager’ at the Canterbury-based company Brannigans Human Capital Chris Bailey and commercial corporate lawyer Guy Royal. There is no suggestion of any experience of working in or with unions, particularly those representing professionals. What this contributes to is a review operating with only a limited context thereby missing more than it saw.

The deficiencies of the review stem from reliance on structural solutions to what is essentially relational and a lack of awareness of the role of NZNO as a union including membership accountability. It is as if NZNO is seen primarily as a professional body that includes some narrow union functions such as MECA bargaining.

There is a lack of a broad view of unionism that recognises the value of collectivist approaches to many issues including those that might be considered professional and industrial (in fact, there is a big area of blurry grey between the two).

The review considers the Board to have an “evident skills gap” and proposes outside expertise to be brought in. Among its recommendations to address this is that all Board members (‘directors’) must become members of the Institute of Directors and to remain eligible for another term have completed the Institute’s ‘essentials’ courses.

In doing so it fails to consider the kinds of skills that are needed for unions or other membership driven organisations. These skills are more to do with insightful understanding of the vulnerability, needs and aspirations of members. The Institute of Directors are not sufficiently experienced in this area. Technical skills such as financial literacy can be provided by external support or qualified senior staff (or both).

Reducing membership control

The review recommends major changes to the Board’s membership which require constitutional amendment. Under its constitution NZNO currently has a governing board comprising 11 elected members called directors. Designated director positions take up 4 of the 11 – President, Vice President, Kaiwhakahaere and Tumu whakarae (assists the Kaiwhakahaere). Members also elect the other 7 members.

If the review’s recommendations were adopted the size of the Board would be reduced from 11 to 9 directors. The above 4 designated positions would remain. But there would be a new unelected position created of Chair appointed by a three-person panel. The Chair could also be a non-member and would be additional to the 9 directors.

Two additional director positions would be created to “bridge the skills gap on the Board”. As with the Chair they could be non-members and would be selected by the same appointments panel. Realistically all 3 positions could be non-members.

The proposed unelected Chair of NZNO’s governing board is pivotal to the review. The role of the Chair is described as ensuring “…that discussion and decisions are centred at a strategic level as well as to take into account operations.” Further, the Chair needs “…to ensure the Board sets a culture that is maintained by the Board and driven through the organisation.”

No punches are pulled about the intent of the proposed Chair when it is called “…the most critical position of the organisation [NZNO]” as the holder works closely with the chief executive and Board. This suggests the review believes the unelected Chair sits above the elected President, Vice President, Kaiwhakahaere and Tumu whakarae!

Reducing the Board to 9 and requiring 2 of them to be appointed means that the number of members outside the above 4 designated positions dramatically reduces from 7 to 3. The effect would be a radical reduction in membership representation on the Board and consequential reduced members’ control and leadership accountability for a membership based organisation.

NZNO a union ‘of itself’ or ‘for itself’

NZNO’s recent successful negotiation of a new MECA for its DHB employed members in difficult circumstances was largely due to its learning from the previous internally fractious negotiation that contributed significantly to the decision to commission the review.

NZNO became more membership engaged and driven which had a big spin-off impact on the effectiveness of its collective bargaining. It was a powerful lesson in membership empowerment which began to move NZNO in the direction of the more influential position of being a ‘union for itself’.

This experience therefore makes the review’s recommendations so disappointing. The review is on a different planet to that of NZNO’s collective bargaining experience. The review goes in the opposite direction. If implemented effect of its recommendations would be to ensure that an organisation endeavouring to become more membership driven would instead become less accountable to its members than it currently is.

Recently NZNO has elected a new national president and vice president (Anne Daniels and Nano Tunnicliffe respectively). They stood as a ticket on a platform, building on the MECA negotiations experience, of strengthening NZNO as a membership-driven and empowered union. Ensuring that this review does not derail this direction will be a huge challenge for them.

How it responds to the review’s recommendations will be a test of the extent to which NZNO understands itself. Is NZNO a union and, if so, is it a union ‘of itself’ or ‘for itself’? How it responds will have wider implications for the union movement in the health system at least.

Ian Powell was formerly the Executive Director of the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists for over 30 years until December 2019.  He is now a health commentator, editor of the blog ‘Otaihanga Second Opinion’, and based in Otaihanga on the Kāpiti Coast.

This article can be republished under a Creative Commons CC BY-ND 4.0  license. Attributions should include a link to the Democracy Project.  

PSA Eco Network pushes DHB sustainability 

By Eco Network Co-convenor Grant Brookes

Pressure is mounting on District Health Boards to become more environmentally sustainable. It might not be top of mind for people when they’re needing care from our hospital and health services, or even for some health workers, but the case for change is clear – and the PSA Eco Network has been helping to make it. Health is the largest emitter of carbon emissions in New Zealand’s public sector. It is estimated that healthcare services contribute between 3% and 8% of New Zealand’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

DHBs are also major consumers of renewable and non-renewable resources and create very large waste streams. A survey of seven DHBs in 2018-19 found that they generated around 1,600 tonnes per year on average. The Covid-19 pandemic has made the problem worse. Globally, 3.4 billion single-use face masks/face shields are discarded every day.

The environmental impacts of DHBs negatively affect the health of their communities, especially the health of disadvantaged groups who are already experiencing poorer health. This was recognised early by a few DHBs, like Northland, Waitematā, Hawkes Bay, Capital & Coast and Counties Manukau, which began measuring and reducing their carbon emissions as far back as 2011. But demands are growing for all DHBs to reduce their environmental footprint – from the public, from professional organisations like OraTaiao NZ Climate and Health Council, from health workers and networks of “green champions” inside DHBs, from our unions and from Government.

Environmental sustainability, including reducing carbon emissions, was added to the Health Minister’s letter of expectations for DHB Chairs in 2018/19 and strengthened in his letter of expectations in 2019/20. This year, annual planning guidance from the Ministry of Health reminds DHBs they’re part of the Carbon Neutral Government Programme, which aims for a zero carbon public sector by 2025, and that they are required to start measuring and publicly reporting their emissions from next year.

As a result, the pace of change is accelerating. The new Taranaki Base Hospital, currently under construction, will be the first Green Star certified hospital building in the country when it opens in late 2023. By then, around 44 tonnes of soft plastic waste from Taranaki’s hospitals will be going each year to be recycled into fence posts. Northland DHB is introducing 150 electric vehicles and installing charging infrastructure. Canterbury DHB will replace its current coal-fired boilers with two new biomass boilers in early 2022.

Artist’s impression of the Green Star certified New East Wing Building at Taranaki Base Hospital, due to open in late 2023.

As well as these projects, some DHBs have recently adopted new long-term sustainability strategies. In June, Bay of Plenty DHB published its Kaitiakitanga Caring for People and Planet – A Framework for Environmental Sustainability. And in September, three Lower North Island DHBs (Capital & Coast, Hutt Valley and Wairarapa) adopted their new 3DHB Sustainability Strategy.

PSA Eco Network members contributed to that strategy, both through the CCDHB Green Champions group and in a formal submission seeking a more far-reaching vision. We have published our submission, sharing our ideas for other PSA members and health workers who might want to contribute to sustainability strategies in their DHB. And we are very keen to hear from any other Eco Network members who are active in this space. Please email us.

• First published (lightly edited) the Eco Network newsletter, 3 November 2021

Eco Network: PSA combatting climate change, James Shaw webinar 4 Nov, intro from new Auckland convenor and more

3 November 2021

Kia ora,

The PSA Eco Network convenors continue to send their aroha to everyone in these strange times, especially our members up in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland doing the hard yards for us all on slowing down the spread of COVID-19.

In this issue 

This month’s bumper newsletter contains some pretty exciting news in the climate realm, from PSA’s own strategic goal refresh to the release of the Government’s Emissions Reduction Plan discussion document.

PSA commits to combatting climate change

Grant Brookes, Eco Network national co-convenor

After a year-long review and refresh, the PSA Executive Board has now published the updated PSA Strategic Goals 2021-17. For the first time, combatting climate change is included in our union’s overarching goals. The Eco Network advocated strongly for this change. We said that a fifth goal, climate justice, should be added and that the four existing goals for the PSA should be amended to build the narrative of the intersections between climate and workers justice.

Although the Executive Board decided to stick with the four current goals, these have been amended to integrate climate action right across the work of the union. It is now the aim of the PSA that by 2024:

  • Public and community services support a Just Transition for communities affected by climate, technology and other change
  • Public and community service workplaces are leaders of decarbonisation and digital rights
  • A just transition for public and community service workers affected by climate, technology and other change
  • We are a sustainable and decarbonised union, fit for the future of union work.

As PSA President Benedict Ferguson told the PSA Working Life Journal this month:

“Climate change is going to affect our society, the ways we work and the environment we live in. It’s important we walk the talk, and make sure we are not contributing to the problem.”

The Eco Network will continue our input on the implementation of the PSA Strategic Goals 2021-27. In particular, we plan to help in the development of a PSA-wide definition of Just Transition and to ensure that all governance structures are considering this in their planning.

You can read our submission about adding climate justice to the PSA Strategic Goals here under the ‘Documents’ tab, or click here to download.

Emissions Reduction Plan discussion document released

Briar Wyatt, Eco Network national co-convenor

Consultation on the Government’s Emissions Reduction Plan is now open until 24 November 2021. This is a step towards the widest reaching, and potentially most ambitious, climate policy this country has ever seen. Members of our rōpū have contributed to this work in numerous ways, either as Eco Network members or through their roles in public service, and it’s exciting to see this work start to come to fruition. 

We are concerned about some gaps that need to be filled in order for this government to be fully committed, to for example a Just Transition, and we will need to use our union power to call for committed approach throughout the engagement process. The PSA released a statement on the Emissions Reduction Plan discussion document when it was released, which you can read here.

The Eco Network will be working with PSA Policy to support submissions and engagement in this space, so please watch this space for more communications from us. In the meantime, you can check out the full discussion document here.

RSVP to our Emissions Reduction Plan webinar with Minister James Shaw

Join us for a PSA Eco Network lunchtime webinar at 12.30pm this coming Thursday, and hear more from Climate Change Minister James Shaw about the consultation on the new Emissions Reduction Plan. What does it mean for PSA members? And why is it important that we have our say on what New Zealand is doing on climate change?

We’ll also have a member-led discussion on our PSA submission to government, and what it should include. You can register for the webinar right here.

Eco Network promotes DHB sustainability

Grant Brookes, Eco Network national co-convenor

Pressure is mounting on District Health Boards to become more environmentally sustainable. It might not be top of mind for people when they’re needing care from our hospital and health services, or even for some health workers, but the case for change is clear – and the PSA Eco Network has been helping to make it. Health is the largest emitter of carbon emissions in New Zealand’s public sector. It is estimated that healthcare services contribute between 3% and 8% of New Zealand’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

DHBs are also major consumers of renewable and non-renewable resources and create very large waste streams. A survey of seven DHBs in 2018-19 found that they generated around 1,600 tonnes per year on average. The Covid-19 pandemic has made the problem worse. Globally, 3.4 billion single-use face masks/face shields are discarded every day.

The environmental impacts of DHBs negatively affect the health of their communities, especially the health of disadvantaged groups who are already experiencing poorer health. This was recognised early by a few DHBs, like Northland, Waitematā, Hawkes Bay, Capital & Coast and Counties Manukau, which began measuring and reducing their carbon emissions as far back as 2011. But demands are growing for all DHBs to reduce their environmental footprint – from the public, from professional organisations like OraTaiao NZ Climate and Health Council, from health workers and networks of “green champions” inside DHBs, from our unions and from Government.

Environmental sustainability, including reducing carbon emissions, was added to the Health Minister’s letter of expectations for DHB Chairs in 2018/19 and strengthened in his letter of expectations in 2019/20. This year, annual planning guidance from the Ministry of Health reminds DHBs they’re part of the Carbon Neutral Government Programme, which aims for a zero carbon public sector by 2025, and that they are required to start measuring and publicly reporting their emissions from next year. As a result, the pace of change is accelerating. The new Taranaki Base Hospital, currently under construction, will be the first Green Star certified hospital building in the country when it opens in late 2023. Northland DHB is introducing 150 electric vehicles and installing charging infrastructure. Canterbury DHB will replace its current coal-fired boilers with two new biomass boilers in early 2022.

As well as these projects, some DHBs have recently adopted new long-term sustainability strategies. In June, Bay of Plenty DHB published its Kaitiakitanga Caring for People and Planet – A Framework for Environmental Sustainability. And in September, three Lower North Island DHBs (Capital & Coast, Hutt Valley and Wairarapa) adopted their new 3DHB Sustainability Strategy.

PSA Eco Network members contributed to that strategy, both through the CCDHB Green Champions group and in a formal submission seeking a more far-reaching vision. We have published our submission, sharing our ideas for other PSA members and health workers who might want to contribute to sustainability strategies in their DHB. And we are very keen to hear from any other Eco Network members who are active in this space. Please email us.

Introducing our new Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland Convenor, Shonagh Clark

Like most Kiwis abroad, Aotearoa was the standard for clean, green and sustainable. Beaches and waterways unpolluted, natural farming, vast areas of protected forest, culturally sensitive and quality of life. Sadly, upon returning after 25 years in the Basque Country, I found a country in crisis. The only characteristic of a low wage economy was the low wages. House prices were beyond the reach of low-income families, rivers were dried up or polluted, beaches flagged as too dirty to swim in, erosion from deforestation devastating homes in heavy rains, overstocking on farms, antibiotics in livestock because of insanitary farming practices, overdependence on cars, absence of bilingual documents from government agencies, almost no bilingual schools, poor quality housing from unsustainable materials…

So, I joined the PSA Eco Network. I thought that with 80,000 members surely something would get done! We have four Eco-reps in Auckland workplaces, but it would be great to have one in every government department or agency. Let’s start making noise. Government and Industry have their part to play but the individual consumer has power, and we all have a responsibility to do our bit.

Photo description: Three generations of Clark women planting a Totara tree for Matariki

Introducing Sarah Wright – Eco Rep profile

Hi there, my name is Sarah Wright and I work for immigration at Auckland International Airport. I am the only Eco Rep at my workplace, but more people are becoming interested in the topic. We are a relatively small team who work to keep immigration risk offshore. If you have ever seen Border Patrol you may have seen what we do – or used to do, before COVID!

This is me on the only episode of Border Patrol I was on. Most people will find my colleague James far more familiar.

 Since COVID-19 arrived our role has changed, and it has given me more time to look into the environmental impact that we, as an immigration branch, are having and try to come up with solutions. I am fortunate to have managers up the chain who support what I do and some progress has been made.

Success in the workplace

At the airport many, many single use face masks are disposed of into the landfill bins each day. I approached the company Future Post who recycling used face masks into fence posts. They advised that they were only using face masks supplied by Primepac as they (Primepac) were also collecting the used masks and delivering to the Future Post plant. I contacted Primepac and set up a meeting between their sales director and one of our supportive border managers.

We have now changed suppliers to Primepac and will be recycling all our single use face masks. Very pleased with that outcome. Every step in the right direction helps.

We would love to hear of success stories from other workplaces, as well as things you’re looking to achieve. Please get in touch.

Celebrating the little wins for environmental sustainability in our hospitals

Here is a photo taken at lunch time last week in the kitchen of our inpatient mental health unit.

On the right hand side is a single-use Styrofoam food container. Since 2012, our inpatient unit has been receiving 30-40 of these each day, seven days a week, for patient lunches – an estimated 100,000-130,000 packages, in all.

Styrofoam is a petroleum-based plastic. Chemicals used in the manufacture of Styrofoam are classified by the Environmental Protection Agency as ecotoxic and carcinogenic. According to a paper posted by the New Zealand Product Stewardship Council, polystyrene foam packaging can last in a landfill for 500 years, leaching those chemicals into soil and waterways.

Sitting to the left, on our kitchen bench, is a lunch package made of sugarcane pulp, a by-product of the sugar refining industry. It is home compostable. Production of these Biocane clamshells is certified carbon neutral.

Last week, our unit finally phased out the use of Styrofoam and switched over to the sustainable alternative. This was achieved with the support of the Green Champions group – a DHB-wide network of staff volunteers who advocate for change in their workplaces.

District Health Boards are getting to grips with the big, transformational changes demanded by Government and society, to reduce their environmental impact.

While staff and our unions – through groups like the PSA Eco Network – continue to push for these system-wide changes, let’s not forget to celebrate the little wins for environmental sustainability in our hospitals, like this one.

PSA Eco Network: IPCC report, CA clauses, and new Wellington Convenor

30 September 2021

The PSA Eco Network committee hope you’re doing well in these strange, uncertain times. Please read on for an update on the latest IPCC report and what it means for our work, negotiating collective agreement clauses on climate change, and an introduction to our new Wellington Convenor, Peter Upson.

IPCC Report strengthens case for union climate action

By Grant Brookes, PSA Eco network National Co-Convenor

Last month saw the release of the first instalment of the Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Produced by 234 experts from 66 countries, including four New Zealand authors, the “Working Group I” report updates our current knowledge on the physical science basis of climate change. The next two instalments – from “Working Group II”, dealing with impacts, adaptation and vulnerability; and “Working Group III”, dealing with the mitigation of climate change – are due out next year. “This report is a reality check,” says Working Group I Co-Chair Valérie Masson-Delmotte. For PSA members, it also underscores just how important it is that “decarbonisation” has been added to the PSA Strategic Goals 2021-27 And it highlights the vital role of Eco network members, both within the PSA and in our workplaces. “In 2019,” says the report, “atmospheric CO2 concentrations were higher than at any time in at least 2 million years.”

Carbon emissions from human activities are driving the observed global warming and recent changes in the climate. These changes include an increase in hot extremes in almost every region on Earth, with more heavy rainfall events and agricultural and ecological droughts across many parts of the globe, as well. The report also outlines our possible climate futures, based on a set of five illustrative emissions scenarios. These range from a “very high” scenario, with CO2 emissions that roughly double from current levels by 2050, to “very low”, where CO2 emissions decline to net zero around 2050.

The “intermediate” scenario is where emissions remain around current levels. In this climate future, it is “very likely” that the average global surface temperature would rise by between 2.1°C and 3.5°C by the year 2100. The last time temperatures were 2.5°C higher was three million years ago.

In our region , maximum 1-day rainfall on parts of New Zealand’s West Coast is projected to rise by around 40%, while East Coast droughts will worsen. The effects of climate change will be worse in cities Under the “very high” emissions scenario, rising sea-levels could change the median shoreline position along sandy coasts in some parts of New Zealand by more than 200m, inundating large low-lying areas. The concluding message from Working Group I will strengthen Eco network campaigns for action on climate change.

“There’s no going back from some changes in the climate system,” they say “However, some changes could be slowed and others could be stopped by limiting warming. The climate we experience in the future depends on our decisions now.”

Climate Clauses in Collective Agreements

By Anna Friedlander, PSA Eco Rep

We recently completed collective bargaining and ratified our Collective Agreement at Waipā District Council. Among the claims we put to the employer was a climate justice clause. There were two parts to this claim. First, we wanted to make a joint statement that the union and the employer acknowledge that we are facing a climate and ecological emergency, and that this emergency requires urgent action. Second, we wanted the parties to make a commitment to work together to minimise, mitigate and eliminate our impact on the climate. This would be enacted by, for example, PSA representation on climate change work done by the employer. More broadly, we were looking to engage with the employer around its responses to climate change and impact on workers. Unfortunately this claim was not successful.

What did make it into the Agreement in the end was a statement of “Shared Principles and Values” including reference to Te Tiriti, the Waipā District Council values and the PSA Strategic Goals. The body of this clause included a statement that “Both parties share a particular interest in … supporting the council’s work in preparing for climate change”. In addition, we removed a redundancy clause that limited employer liability in the case of natural disaster – I’d consider this a win on the climate front given that we are expecting more frequent and more severe weather events as a result of climate change.Hopefully, we can build on this statement in the next round of bargaining.

One thing I think would help get claims like this across the line would be examples of climate clauses in other collective agreements. I think this might help employers feel some level of comfort in putting something new into the agreement. The more Collective Agreements that have climate justice clauses, the easier it will be to get such a clause introduced. If we all keep chipping away at this, we can make a change. Climate change is an urgent problem and the more fronts we can fight it on the better.

Please get in touch with us at eco@psa.org.nz if you have a good clause in your collective agreement, or if you’re working on raising a claim like this in bargaining. The PSA Eco network is working on developing model environmental clauses and a guide to progressing claims in bargaining.

Introducing our new Wellington Convenor

By Peter Upson, PSA Eco network Wellington Convenor

I am originally from Auckland. I currently live in Wellington and I work for Public Trust. I have a Bachelor of Social Science, Bachelor of Laws and Master of Laws (First Class Honours) from the University of Waikato. I have been a Union Delegate for FIRST Union and the PSA. I am a Committee Member of New Zealand Labour Law Association. I have published two academic articles in the Comparative Labour and Social Security Law Review at the University of Bordeaux on New Zealand Labour and Employment Law. I was previously an Eco Rep for the PSA Eco network and I am also a member of the PSA Youth network. I am particularly interested in hearing from PSA Eco network members living in Wellington and the surrounding areas. In terms of environmental issues my main areas of interest are new technology, electronic waste and climate change.

We now have a full Eco network Convenor Committee. We met virtually for some planning this month and will be meeting again soon. We’ll provide an update on our planning and how that connects to the new PSA Strategic Goals.